I am a typical example of the Nigerian basketball programme. I played on the junior and national teams that offered me the exposure to travel to the USA on a basketball scholarship to complete my education at the University of Wyoming.
I became an accomplished sports agent representing top NBA players globally. After many years abroad, I came back in 2015 and co-founded the African Basketball League, that provided the template for what is now called the BAL which is the Basketball Africa League that is now a billion dollar buisness.
We made tremendous personal and financial sacrifices to accomplish this great feat. The same people that claim to love basketball so much were the same people that banned such a wonderful venture. This same people that now claim to have the best interest for Nigerian basketball did not raise a finger when the TJ Umar led Nigeria Basketball Federation called our sponsors and threatened them to pull sponsorships from the ABL. I ended up owing players because of the actions of the NBBF leadership at that time. The person that saved the ABL that season was Musa Kida (current NBBF President)and I had never met him before then. He made sure we were able to pay players and finish the season because he liked what we were doing.
What would have become of the ABL today, we may never know but I definitely did not want to sit in my home in US and complain about Nigerian basketball, I did what I had to do to create something special; a sustainable equity driven ecosystem for basketball excellence. Till today, there has been no tangible reason why they banned ABL. No one has said a word.
A lot is going on in our beautiful country today that the talk of basketball in such an environment is incongruous at best but not speaking up on this matter is also irresponsible.
I don’t know what my life would have been if I was a kid today playing basketball and the Nigerian government suspends itself from international competitions. I would have definitely lost the opportunity of a US college education, the African Basketball League would not have happened and definitely there will be no AFASPORTS today. This is only a tip of the iceberg of the consequences of the suspension of Nigeria from international basketball by its Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare.
A generation of kids and players will be negatively affected by this decision and will take Nigeria back to the basketball Ice age. The purveyors of the narrative that suspension is the best way to go do not understand the cost of such an action but unfortunately, just like the ban on the ABL this is a look into the Nigeria story as a whole.
This event has been planning out for a long time and some of us have been sounding the alarm. There have been threats and statements made by the same “lovers” of basketball as far back as last year. The players were warned about the plan to suspend
Nigeria which has nothing to do with basketball but control of available national purse dedicated to basketball and how to ravage it. Some people are willing to sacrifice a few million dollars to the detriment of national good and if you think it stops and ends in basketball then you are blind.
Nigerian basketball has the potential in terms of opportunities for sports enterprise but everyone is focused on the low hanging fruit of government largesse. Before we started ABL, they told us no one will pay for tickets to watch a game of basketball in Nigeria. In 2015 we where selling front row seats for ₦25,000. They told us no one will buy a Nigerian sports brand. Today, we have 3 stores and ship to over 15 countries. The talent is endless especially in Imo State where most of the best players originate.
I suspect the money grab is locked in and loaded so we stakeholders must find ways to expose the players and give them the opportunity they deserve. Finger pointing will not solve the problem. The quote “he who lives in a glass house should not throw stones” applies here because we are all part of this leadership and situation at different points.
There are no factions. If you really believe there are factions go to the states, the zones, from Enugu to Kano to Akure and ask the grassroots who they voted for during the NBBF elections. I am the chairman of Anambra state basketball. Please go to my local government, my state chairman of Sports, Director of Sports, who they voted and appointed to lead the state basketball. I was also voted by 4 out of 5 states in the southeast to represent them on the NBBF board. I was not appointed, I was given a mandate by the southeast stakeholders and no one has the right to take that away without the peoples consent.
The system has to change. The right dealing person will not survive the current system around basketball in Nigeria.
This is a time to come together more than ever. These are dark times not just in basketball but in our country as a whole. I plan to vote for the first time ever in our next election. I have stood in the lines twice for hours under the scorching sun trying to get my PVC. I will definitely succeed in that too and we will change Nigeria for the better.
The pain that will be inflicted on Nigerian basketball by this suspension will last much longer after this Minister of Sports. Our goal will be to insulate our game from that ever happening again.
Ugo Udezue, the CEO of AFA Sports wrote this piece from Lagos
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